The advocate for consumers of Ohio utilities joins the AG in asking PUCO to pause FirstEnergy probes

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — The state agency that watches utilities on behalf of consumers is pulling back on its request for investigations by the Public Utilities Commission of its former chair and of FirstEnergy. This comes after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost advised the PUCO to halt four investigations related to the nuclear power plant bailout law known as House Bill 6.

The Public Utilities Commission, meeting publicly in 2016.
The Public Utilities Commission, meeting publicly in 2016. [Statehouse News Bureau]
The PUCO just restarted the four HB 6 related cases last month. But Yost’s letter to the PUCO said if former chair Sam Randazzo and former FirstEnergy execs Chuck Jones and Mike Dowling testify, they could get immunity from state prosecution on what they’ve testified to.
“If the PUCO were to enforce subpoenas requiring Samuel Randazzo, Charles Jones, or Michael Dowling to produce documents or testify regarding any of the transactions at issue in ongoing criminal proceedings, these individuals would claim transactional immunity under R.C. 4903.08. Such a claim could then result in the dismissal of criminal charges,” Yost’s letter said in part.Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Maureen Willis had asked for the PUCO to reopen those investigations, but she said she’s now asking them to hold off for now.

“The Attorney General’s concern, and I think it’s a very legitimate concern and we most certainly appreciate the Attorney General’s attention to this, is that the state and federal cases, the criminal cases not be interfered with potentially dismissed,” Willis said. “We now have a serious legal issue that the attorney general has discovered and raised. So I think things have changed and we’re not gonna be unreasonable and we’re not gonna put the criminal cases at risk by our behavior in front of the PUCO.”

Willis said consumers still deserve answers whether Randazzo’s actions had an effect on their electric rates, but the cases before the PUCO can wait.

“Clearly, we have confidence and trust in the Ohio Attorney General’s opinion of what could happen. So, I’d say at this point, we’re willing to be cautious,” Willis said.

Yost’s letter asks for a pause while criminal charges are pending against the three. But Willis says she doesn’t think civil lawsuits are affected.